A group of activist farmers in the Philippines stormed a government research facility and destroyed an area of genetically modified rice crops the size of 10 football fields. According to New Scientist, the farmers say that genetically modified organism (GMO) foods have not been established to be safe for consumption and that the real solution to world hunger isn't biologically engineered plants, but a reduction in worldwide rates of poverty.
"The Golden Rice is a poison," said Willy Marbella to New Scientist. Marbella is a farmer and deputy secretary general of a group of activists known as KMP -- Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or Peasant Movement of the Philippines.
The farmers attacked the fields at the research facility in Pili, Camarines Sur out of concern that their own crops could be pollinated and thereby contaminated by the GMO plants, possibly resulting in a boycott of their products like U.S. farmers of soft white wheat saw when a strain of Monsanto herbicide-resistant wheat abruptly appeared in an Oregon field. South Korea and Japan both halted imports of U.S. wheat in the wake of the discovery.
Golden Rice is a strain of rice that has been modified by scientists to contain beta carotene, a source of vitamin A. An estimated 2 million people die from vitamin A deficiency worldwide every year. Annually, about 500,000 children -- mainly in the developing world -- go blind from lack of the nutrient.
Golden Rice advocates claim that replacing half of a child's rice intake with Golden Rice provides them with 60 percent of their daily requirement of vitamin A.
Representatives of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a fervently pro-Golden Rice organization, say that even though the GMO has yet to be approved for human consumption, research trials suggest that it's safe, and that scientists can't find out anything more if people destroy the test plants.
Framing attacks on GMO crops as attacks on the effort to end world hunger, the IRRI issued a series of press releases since the action at Pili on Thursday decrying the farmers as ill-informed "vandals."
Anti-GMO activists say that too many studies on the effects of GMOs are being undertaken by organizations that have a stake in their success. They also say that Golden Rice is being used as a seeming innocuous "poster boy" crop to sell GMOs to an overly credulous public.
Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace Southeast Asia told New Scientist, "There is not enough safety testing done on any GM crops."
"I think that the farmers know what they want," she said. "What they want is a safe environment that they can grow their crops in" without fear of contamination and a subsequent boycott...This is playing with the lives of people when you are using Golden Rice to promote more GMOs in our food."
Watch a video statement about the incident from the International Rice Research Institute, embedded below:
[image of anti-GMO protester via justasc / Shutterstock.com]